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Are Eating Disorders More Prevalent In Women Than Men? Dietician Shares All About The Illness

Different health issues can manifest differently in men. For example, heart attacks may present with chest pain in men, while women may experience more subtle symptoms like fatigue or nausea. Men are also more prone to certain conditions like prostate cancer, which often shows no symptoms in its early stages. Similarly, women are often more prone to developing disorders like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder, highlighting the complex interplay of biological, psychological, and sociocultural factors.

What are Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions characterized by abnormal eating habits that can have severe physical and emotional consequences. They often involve extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviours surrounding food and weight. 

Dr Vedika Premnani, clinical dietician, Sir H.N. Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai says, “Eating disorders represent a spectrum of psychological conditions characterized by disrupted eating patterns, profoundly impacting both physical and mental health. The primary classifications include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.”

Types of Eating Disorders

  • Anorexia Nervosa involves a deep-seated fear of weight gain and a distorted body image, leading individuals to severely limit their food intake, resulting in significant weight loss. 
  • Bulimia Nervosa is characterized by recurrent episodes of binge eating followed by purging behaviours such as self-induced vomiting or misuse of laxatives, often accompanied by a distorted body image. 
  • Binge-eating Disorder entails regularly consuming large amounts of food in a short period, feeling a loss of control over eating habits, but without compensatory purging behaviours.

Prevalence of Eating Disorder Among Females

Dr Vedika highlights, “Studies consistently demonstrate a higher prevalence of these disorders among females, with approximately 0.5 to 1 per cent affected by anorexia, 2 to 3 per cent by bulimia, and 3.5 per cent grappling with binge-eating disorder. While symptoms may differ across genders, common indicators include overeating, loss of control, binge eating, self-induced vomiting, fasting, laxative misuse, and excessive exercise.”

What are the Causes of Eating Disorders?

“The development of eating disorders is complex and influenced by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, psychological, and social factors. Societal pressures, family dynamics, traumatic experiences, and cultural ideals of beauty all contribute to their onset. Signs might appear as significant weight loss, fixation on calorie counting, obsessive thoughts about food and weight, purging actions, and retreat from social interactions,” shares Dr Vedika.

Treatment for Eating Disorders

Treatment typically adopts a holistic approach, incorporating psychotherapy, medical supervision, and nutritional guidance. According to Dr Vedika, lifestyle modifications play a pivotal role in the recovery process:

– Encouraging balanced eating habits to establish a healthier relationship with food.

– Promoting regular exercise for overall well-being rather than solely for weight management.

– Teaching effective stress management techniques to cope with emotional triggers without resorting to disordered eating behaviours.

– Cultivating body positivity and self-esteem through acceptance of diverse body shapes and sizes.

– Establishing a robust support network comprising friends, family, and healthcare professionals to provide encouragement and assistance throughout the recovery journey.

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